Fred Turner on USCO

For Wiener, as, later, for McLuhan and Fuller, computers served as important tools with which to model and create such environments.9 When they read Wiener alongside McLuhan and Fuller, the artists of USCO extended Wiener’s insights on the role of computing to include technologies ranging from 35 mm slides to film strips to strobe lights and even LSD. For USCO, each of these technologies opened the door to a cybernetic, environmental mode of social organization. At one level, USCO sought to control its audience through communication: as Stern put it in 1967, when you make a multimedia environment, “you take a piece of time, and you see what you can make it do to people.”10 At another, however, it offered a way to free audience and artist alike and allow them to enter a collaborative, egalitarian social structure. The effect of an USCO show, wrote journalist Richard Kostelanetz at the time, was “somewhat similar to the psychedelic experience, for in both an awareness of sensory overload disrupts all attempts at concentrated focus—and also initiates a gamut of emotional and psychological changes. An intrinsic purpose of such an environment is the challenging of linear habits of organization.”11 Once immersed in a state of information overload, USCO meant its audience members to become something like cybernetic organisms, acting, seeking feedback, reacting. It also aimed to give them a new appreciation of human unity: USCO designed its installation at the Riverside Church, for example, to teach visitors that “We Are All One.” (p. 69)

Turner, F. (2014). The corporation and the counterculture: Revisiting the Pepsi pavilion and the politics of Cold War multimedia. The Velvet Light Trap, (73), 66-78.

USCO was a media art collective in the 60s and 70s, founded by Michael Callahan and Gerd Stern, who also founded Intermedia Systems Corporation which produced multimedia art internationally. Influenced by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, they were using stroboscopes, projectors and audiotapes in their performances. Eventually they moved into an old church in Garnerville, Rockland County, NY. To underline the community character of the project, USCO used the phrase “We are all one”. The abbreviation USCO stands for “The Company of Us”. Among its members were the painter Stephen Durkee and the video artist Jud Yalkut[1] Stewart Brand, although not a formal member of the group, held close relations to USCO.